The subversion of FDR’s government, as retold by a master.
(Threshold Editions, 294 pages, $26)
By John R. Coyne, Jr
There were giants in those days, and Stan Evans is still standing, a man of great wit and erudition, a fighting journalist whom several generations of young conservatives have gladly followed into ideological battle.
The wit was on full display at The American Spectator’s 2011 Robert L. Bartley Dinner, at which Evans accepted the Barbara Olson Award. He spoke of the similarities among Texas (where he was born), Indiana (where TAS was born), and Alabama, whose Sen. Jeff Sessions was in attendance. In those states, he said, unlike Washington, “Alcohol, tobacco, and firearms is not a bureau. It’s a way of life.”
Addressing his remarks to Congress, in the person of Rep. Paul Ryan, also in attendance, Evans urged repeal of Obama’s health care law, “in order to know what is not in it.” He pointed out that even Nancy Pelosi said she didn’t know what was in it (and no doubt still doesn’t). But with repeal, “whatever is in it, will not be in it.”
There were anecdotes involving Indiana state legislator Vernon Wormser, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Hillary Clinton’s vast right-wing conspiracy (of which we’re all proudly a part); an acknowledgment of Bob Tyrrell’s “persecution” of the Clintons; and an observation on the ideological aspects of aging: “I’ve always felt that anyone who has his head screwed on right should be conservative when he is young and, as he gets older, become more and more conservative.”
That, in a nutshell, is the road Stan Evans has taken. In 1955 he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Yale, where he’d been an editor of the Yale Daily News. He went to work at the Freeman, was named editor of the Indianapolis News (where at 26 he was the nation’s youngest editor of a metropolitan daily), and became one of the earliest contributing editors of National Review, and an ally and friend-to-the-end of Bill Buckley, Bill Rusher, and Frank Meyer. (Many conservatives were upset when, after Frank Meyer’s death, George Will rather than Stan Evans was appointed NR’s books editor.) He was a frequent contributor to Human Events and to TAS, to which he also provided valuable advice and counsel, especially during the early Indiana years. He was a columnist for the Los Angeles Times news syndicate, founder and president of the National Journalism Center, and president of the American Conservative Union and the Philadelphia Society.
He was also one of those young conservatives, along with Lee Edwards, whom Bill Buckley and Marvin Liebman recruited to help with the founding of Young Americans for Freedom. Stan Evans drafted the Sharon Statement, and Lee Edwards became the first editor of New Guard.
Evans is author of nine books, among them the magisterial Blacklisted by History, a vindication of Senator Joseph McCarthy based on an intensive analysis of now-available FBI files and material from Soviet archives. In Stalin’s Secret Agents, he continues his examination of the depth and breadth of Soviet subversion, as revealed through primary sources and formerly secret documents.
His co-author, Herbert Romerstein (The Venona Secrets), a leading Cold War expert, served on the staff of several congressional committees, among them the House Intelligence Committee, and headed the USIA’s Office to Counter Soviet Disinformation from 1983 to 1989, when the extraordinarily nightmarish Soviet alternative universe finally imploded.
That implosion occurred in no small part because of the continued pressure, despite the best liberal attempts to thwart it, applied to Washington thinkers, legislators, and policy makers by outnumbered conservative spokesman, journalists, and patriots like Evans and Romerstein. The fact is that there was indeed a genuine international communist conspiracy, and the ultimate success of this conspiracy necessarily entailed neutralizing opposition from the United States. To this end, Joseph Stalin’s agents of influence infiltrated the federal government at the highest levels, one of their primary objectives being to shape our foreign policy in a manner favorable to the Soviet Union.
With FDR’s health and mental capacity steadily diminishing, these agents of influence, among them Harry Hopkins, one of FDR’s closest advisers who came to be known as the “Deputy President” (he actually lived in the White House), increasingly steered American foreign policy in pro-Soviet directions.
EVANS AND ROMERSTEIN focus on the Yalta Conference of early 1945, a meeting at which the big three—FDR, Churchill, and Stalin—decided the futures of nations like Poland and Yugoslavia in the post-WWII world. Two conflicting views about that future would set the tone of the talks. Winston Churchill believed that “the West urgently needed to shore up its defenses against the expansion of Soviet power,” while among those apparently speaking for FDR (the authors convincingly document the president’s mental deterioration, witnessed by a wide variety of reputable observers and casting doubt on his ability to think clearly), “the impending dominance of Soviet power in Europe was not something to be combated, deplored, or counterbalanced, but rather an outcome to be accommodated and assisted.”
Part of this view was no doubt an extraordinary misreading of Joseph Stalin by those, who, if they weren’t agents of influence, served effectively as useful idiots. The authors quote an assessment of Stalin written by Joseph Davies, our ambassador to Moscow: “He [Stalin] gives the impression of a strong mind which is composed and gentle. A child would like to sit on his lap and a dog would sidle up to him.” And FDR himself is quoted as having said to a somewhat startled cabinet “that as Stalin early on had studied for the priesthood, ‘something entered into his nature of the way in which a Christian gentleman should behave.’”
In much the same vein, the authors quote William Bullitt on FDR’s view of aid to Stalin. Said FDR: “I have just a hunch that Stalin doesn’t want anything but security for his country, and I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work for world democracy and peace.” (Emphasis added by the authors.)
And that, at Yalta, is pretty much what happened. The authors go on to give an account of the dealings between FDR and Stalin, including FDR’s attempt to cut Winston Churchill out of the discussions so as not to upset Stalin, and some tasteless jokes told by FDR, including a highly offensive reference to the problems he and Stalin shared in dealing with Jews.
But tastelessness, bigotry, and intellectual shallowness aside, and given the obvious physical and mental deterioration, how did FDR come to so misread and misunderstand the basic and unchanging goals of Soviet policy? The answer: He had no coherent idea of what he was doing and his policies, resulting in the great concessions made to the Russians at Yalta, were in large part the result of the work of dupes and useful idiots led by a genuine traitor, Alger Hiss, who as a Russian agent played a central role in shaping the conference.
According to one report, write the authors, “The KGB lamented that Hiss was already spoken for by the rival Soviet agency GRU (military intelligence), saying that if the KGB had such a source at State ‘no one else would really be needed.’” (And thus, in the end, to the distress of liberal fellow-traveling dupes everywhere, would Whittaker Chambers be totally vindicated, as would Richard Nixon, the congressman who stood by him.)
Evans and Romerstein identify key conspirators and agents planted in high positions in the federal government, as well as the central roles played by such influential advisers as Harry Hopkins and Henry Morgenthau. They document the indifference of the bureaucracy to the threats posed by communist infiltration, as well as the orchestrated cover-ups, including rigged grand jury sessions, that prevented Congress and the American people from receiving facts about the extent of that infiltration. In a perceptive review of Anne Applebaum’s splendid new book, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956, Norman Davies writes: “Perhaps the hardest thing for Eastern Europeans to bear was that no one in the outside world cared. As seen from Washington and London, Applebaum writes, ‘Russia’s behavior in Eastern Europe…was hardly worth noticing at all.’” Or worse, as the evidence mustered by Evans and Romerstein strongly suggests, noticed in some influential quarters with approval.
As Wlady Pleszczynski points out, Ms. Applebaum’s book “is getting deserved attention, in part because it focuses on something that’s either been forgotten or was never paid attention to by the dominant liberal culture, when that culture wasn’t colluding with the Stalinists and Stalinoids.”
For the same reasons—and whether it’s agents of influence, traitors, dupes, or useful idiots—Stalin’s Secret Agents merits the same critical attention.